Major success for effort to end short school days for special education students

In recent years, many Oregon school districts have resorted to inappropriately shortening the school days of student with disabilities, often to as little as an hour a day, instead of constructively addressing behavior problems with positive behavior supports.

When this happens, children who can ill afford to miss school are allowed to attend for only a few hours a day, often for many months and sometimes for entire school years. Others are excluded from school altogether and receive 1 or 2 hours of tutoring per day. Job loss, economic hardship, and stress on family relationships are common for parents whose school age children are suddenly home for most of the day.

It is for these reasons that Disability Rights Oregon special education attorneys and colleagues at Youth, Rights & Justice (YRJ) have worked to curb the use of short school days for more than two years. In that effort, we have opened individual cases, pushed for legislation to prohibit short school days, and filed complaints with the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

We also continually advocated for the Oregon Department of Education and OCR to issue written guidance about the problem.  We collected and provided data regarding the prevalence and duration of shortened school days through parent surveys that were available on DRO and YRJ websites. We also worked closely with our partners at Families and Community Together (FACT) whose input into our data collection effort was invaluable.

The data we collected conclusively confirmed the prevalence and seriousness of the problem. When it was presented to ODE, the Department was moved to acknowledge that the problem was significant and began working on a Numbered Executive Memorandum about reduced school days. That Memorandum was completed and sent to the Superintendents and Special Education Directors of every one of Oregon’s 220 school districts on January 27, 2016.

Although the Memorandum was written for school district officials rather than parents, we hope that it will become a new and powerful tool for parents who are confronted by school district decisions that improperly and unnecessarily deny their children the right to learn and attend school for full days. You can download the Memorandum here.

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